Five major blunders of Nehru-Part II

This article is written by @Rajnikant_rkp, who has written the book “Foundations of Misery : Blunders of the Nehruvian Era“. You can buy it here or here.

Major Blunder – III
External Security

Inexplicably Irresponsible Ideas

The seeds of India’s disgraceful debacle in 1962 India-China War were sown soon after Independence by none other than India’s first Prime Minister himself, as would be shockingly obvious from his approach to external security from the incident below.

Shortly after Independence, General Lockhart, as the Army chief (India and Pakistan had British Chiefs initially), took a strategic defence plan for India to Nehru, seeking a Government directive in the matter. Reportedly, Lockhart returned shell-shocked at Nehru’s response: “The PM took one look at my paper and blew his top. ‘Rubbish! Total rubbish! We don’t need a defence plan. Our policy is ahimsa [non-violence]. We foresee no military threats. Scrap the army! The police are good enough to meet our security needs’, shouted Nehru.”

Given such a mind-set, only God could have saved India in times of disaster. Unfortunately, God too abandoned India in 1962 War. Perhaps God was cheesed off by the “rational”, “scientific-minded”, atheist-agnostic Nehru!

The art of war is of vital importance to the State. It is a matter of life and death, a road either to safety or to ruin. Hence it is a subject of inquiry which can on no account be neglected.

~ Sun Tzu, Art of War
But, what did Nehru do? Despite the “Glimpses of World History” and the “Discovery of India”, Nehru failed to discover that India suffered slavery for well over a millennium on account of its weakness to defend itself. No wonder, he neglected modernisation of the army, strengthening of defence, and pacts with powerful nations to deter enemies and ensure India’s security.

Hyderabad would have been another Kashmir/Pakistan

Had it been left to Nehru, and had it not been for Sardar Patel, Hyderabad state would have been either another Kashmir or another Pakistan.

Mountbatten, also Chairman of the Defence Committee, had recorded: “Pandit Nehru said openly at the meeting, and subsequently assured me privately, that he would not allow any orders to be given for operations to start unless there really was an event, such as a wholesale massacre of Hindus within the State, which would patently justify, in the eyes of the world, action by the Government of India.”

What would the world think? What Mountbatten thought? What about his own image? These seemed to weigh more with Nehru. Why couldn’t he also think the opposite: that the world would consider India a sissy and a fool to ignore its own national interests. But, apparently Nehru found arguments for only those courses of action where he didn’t have to take action! Or, where he could avoid decisions and difficulties.

The situation in Hyderabad was progressing towards a climax. Under Sardar’s constant pressure, and despite the opposition of Pandit Nehru and Rajaji, the decision was taken to march into Hyderabad and thereby to put an end both to the suspended animation in which the State stood and the atrocities on the local population which had become a matter of daily occurrence.
~ V Shankar further in “My Reminiscences of Sardar Patel” Vol-2
…Reports circulating at the time said that even then Nehru was not in favour of marching troops into Hyderabad lest the matter be taken up by the UN…It is true that Patel chafed at the ‘do-nothing attitude of the Indian government’…
~ Kuldip Nayar in “Beyond the Lines”

Erasure of Tibet as a Nation

Nehru allowed Tibet, our peaceful neighbour and a buffer between us and China, to be erased as a nation, without even recording a protest in the UN, thereby making our northern borders insecure, and putting a question mark on the future of the water resources that originate in Tibet.

The Tibetan Government protested to the UN against the Chinese aggression. But, as Tibet was not a member of the UN, it was simply recorded by the UN Secretariat as an appeal from an NGO. Their appeal, in a way, was pigeonholed.

In view of this handicap, Tibetans requested the Government of India to raise the Tibet issue in the UN. But, India was not willing to do so, lest China should feel antagonised! What to speak of helping our neighbour who had appealed to us for help, we shamelessly advised the victim, that is, Tibet, to seek peaceful settlement with the aggressor, China. Even worse, when through others, the Tibet’s appeal came up on 23 November 1950 for discussions in the UN General Assembly, we opposed the discussions on a very flimsy ground—that India had received a note from China that the matter would be peacefully resolved!

With no one to sponsor the Tibetan appeal, possibility of some joint action was discussed by the Commonwealth delegation to the UN. In the meeting, the Indian representative advised that India did not wish to raise the Tibetan issue in the UNSC, nor did India favour its inclusion in the UN General Assembly agenda!

See the irony: Nehru referred to the UN what India should never have referred, and he refused to refer a matter to the UN that India should certainly have referred.  Nehru took the J&K issue to the UN, which he should never have, it being a purely internal matter; while Nehru refused to refer the issue of Tibet to the UN, despite its criticality to the survival of Tibet as a nation, its inherent soundness, and despite it being critical to India’s external security!

When Nehru should not have acted, he did act; and when he should have acted, he didn’t! Both, his action and his inaction, led to disastrous consequences for India. Nehru’s strategy was India’s tragedy.

During his last days in 1964, Nehru was reported to have said: “I have been betrayed by a friend. I am sorry for Tibet.” Betrayal? One does not understand. In international politics, if you are naive and are incompetent to take care of your own interests, you would keep getting betrayed.

the Worst Ever International Agreement

Despite what China did to Tibet, India signed The Panchsheel Agreement with China on 29 April 1954. The agreement itself was titled “Agreement on Trade and Intercourse between the Tibet region of China and India” thus acknowledging Tibet as a part of China. India gained nothing through the Agreement, and all benefits accrued to China.

India did not even insist on prior settlement of borders. Reportedly, Girija Shankar Bajpai of the External Affairs Ministry had advised on settlement of the borders prior to the signing of Panchsheel, but his suggestion was ignored.

This great doctrine was born in sin, because it was enunciated to put the seal of our approval upon the destruction of an ancient nation which was associated with us spiritually and culturally…It was a nation which wanted to live its own life and it sought to have been allowed to live its own life…
~ Acharya Kripalani on Panchsheel

Upon criticism of the Panchsheel in parliament, Nehru had brazenly stated that in the realm of foreign affairs he could never take so much credit as for the India-China settlement over Tibet!  An amazing assertion indeed! All agreements among nations involve give and take. Panchsheel was only a “give away” with no reciprocal “take”. Through Panchsheel  India literally gave Tibet to China on a platter, without negotiating anything in return either for Tibet or for India. Panchsheel is actually a most eloquent example of the naivety of the Indian diplomacy and a shining example of what an international agreement should not be!

Not Settling India-China Boundary Dispute

Nehru failed to negotiate with China on a peaceful settlement of borders, so vital to India’s security. Doing so was not difficult considering that China at the time was not strong, had numerous other external and internal problems to contend with, and was therefore willing for a “give and take”, particularly Aksai Chin-McMahon Line swap: recognition of McMahon Line by China in return for India’s recognition of China’s claim on Aksai Chin, with minor adjustments. For over a decade (the whole of fifties and the early sixties), umpteen occasions presented themselves, both during the numerous visits of Zhou En Lai to India and the visit of Nehru to China, to settle the issue, but Nehru frittered away all the opportunities. Nehru let go even the Panchsheel moment to close the issue.

In his book, India-China Boundary Problem, 1846-1947, A.G. Noorani, a leading Constitutional expert and an advocate at the Supreme Court of India, mentions that a map annexed to the Mountbatten’s Report on his Viceroyalty labeled northern boundaries as Boundary Undefined. Map annexed to a White Paper on Indian States released in July 1948 by the Ministry of States under Sardar Patel also did not show these borders as clearly defined, unlike the McMahon Line which was clearly shown. The controversial area in this part was Aksai Chin. However, the maps were unilaterally altered after July 1954 at the instance of Nehru, and began to show a clear, demarcated border—that included Aksai Chin—as unilaterally decided by India.

…I was only the home ministry’s information officer and had no official locus standi, but it was obvious that the Polish ambassador was on a mission. He invited me for a chat at his chancery and expected me to convey what he had said to [Gobind Ballabh] Pant [Nehru’s Home Minister]. At the beginning of the conversation he said that the proposal he would make had the support of all Communist countries, and specifically mentioning the Soviet Union. His proposal was that India should accept a package political deal, getting recognition for the McMahon Line in exchange for handing over control of some areas in Ladakh [Aksai Chin] to China. He said that the areas demanded had never been charted, and nobody could say to whom they belonged. What was being claimed to be India’s was what had been forcibly occupied by the UK. No power could honour ‘the imperialist line’, nor should India insist upon it. Whatever the odds, China would never part with the control of the road it had built. That was lifeline between Sinkiang and other parts of China, he argued. I conveyed the proposal to Pant who gave me no reaction, his or that of the government.
~ Kuldip Nayar in “Beyond the Lines”

India-China War

India and China had a record going back thousands of years for never having fought a war between them. Nehru, through his policies, broke that record, though unwillingly.

Nehru’s forward policy and his failure in settling the borders resulted in India-China war and its consequent human and financial loss. Here, we are talking of what India could control, not what China had in mind.

India began building forward check-posts under its hare-brained Forward Policy—which was actually a “bluff” masquerading as a military strategy. Their locations were as per the border unilaterally determined by India, and not as per mutual discussions with China. There was, therefore, a possibility of China’s objection, and even Chinese action to demolish the posts. The fact was that the boundaries were not settled, so what was say within Indian boundary for India, may have been within Chinese boundary for China. If you had not settled the boundaries, controversies were bound to arise. But, rather than negotiating a boundary with China and reaching a peaceful settlement, Nehru-Menon & Co in their wisdom—their Forward Policy—convinced themselves that it is they who would determine the boundary, and in token thereof, establish their posts, like markers. That China could object, and then attack and demolish those posts, and even move forward into India did not seem to them a possibility. Why? Because, reasoned Nehru: any such “reckless” action by China would lead to world war, and China would not precipitate such a thing! That what they were themselves doing was also “reckless” did not apparently strike the wise men.

Neglecting External Security

Rather than settling and securing India’s borders, Nehru practically made the whole long border, whether in the west or northwest with Pakistan, or in the north and northeast with China or in the east with East-Pakistan (now Bangla Desh) become sensitive, requiring a fortune to defend.

Rather than strengthening an already weak army, he further weakened it by allowing its politicisation.

Rather than having strong allies on its side to deter others, India, thanks to Nehru’s self-defeating foreign policies,  remained non-aligned so that Pakistan (aligned with the West) and China (aligned with the USSR) felt free to attack you, knowing it to be a non-risky business as no body would come to the rescue of non-aligned India in its hours of distress.

Nehru seemed to be clueless, even irresponsible, in not realising what it took for the country of the size of India, with its many inherited problems, to be able to defend itself adequately and deter others from any designs over it.

On one hand, Nehru failed to settle border-issue with China, and on the other, he did irresponsibly little to militarily secure the borders we claimed ours. Nehru and his Defence Minister Krishna Menon ignored the persistent demands for military upgradation.

India’s army chief, KS Thimayya, had repeatedly raised the issue of army’s gross weaknesses in defending itself from China.

I hope I am not leaving you as cannon fodder for the Chinese. God bless you all!
~ KS Thimayya, India’s army chief, to his fellow army-men in his farewell speech upon retirement in 1961

There was no overall political objective; no National Policy; no grand strategy and total unreadiness for military operations in the awesome Himalayan mountains, against a first-class land power… We did not study the pattern of weapons and communications equipments that we may require. Army Schools of Instruction were oriented towards open warfare. There was little emphasis on mountain warfare despite the Army’s deployment in Kashmir from 1947… The Army was forgotten; its equipment allowed to become obsolete, certainly obsolescent; and its training academic and outdated. We merely tried to maintain what we had inherited in 1947…The political assumptions of our defence policies were invalid and dangerous… In October 1962 Indians were shocked beyond words to discover that we had no modern rifle,…

~ Brigadier JP Dalvi in his book “Himalayan Blunder”


Not Taking Responsibility

Israel’s Example, in sharp contrast to Nehru’s

Israel successfully repelled the combined attack from Egypt and Syria in 1973—what has come to be known as the Yom Kipper War. After its decisive victories against the Arabs in 1967, Israel was a little laid back and unprepared, thinking there wouldn’t be any further wars. The attack of 1973 therefore came as a surprise to it. Still, after the initial setbacks and panic, it rose to the challenge. Golda Meir was the president then. Even though Israel’s ultimate victory was spectacular and decisive, they immediately instituted an enquiry to fix responsibility for the initial setbacks and the panic reaction, and the lapses that led to the attack coming as a surprise.

The preliminary report took just a few months and was released on April 2, 1974—it actually named names of those responsible. Several top-ranking staff were asked to resign. Golda Meir was not named, but taking overall responsibility, she resigned on April 10, 1974—after mere eight days of release of the report, which was only a preliminary report! This, even though Israel, under Golda Meir, had actually won the war decisively and turned the tables on the Arab countries that had attacked them!

Even though India lost pathetically in the 1962 India-China War, Nehru government instituted no enquiry; and Nehru did not even make a gesture of an offer to resign. Any democratic country, worth its salt, would have instituted a detailed enquiry into all aspects of the debacle. But, what happened in practice? Nothing!

When the inevitable disaster came Nehru did not even have grace or courage to admit his errors or seek a fresh mandate from the people. He did not even go through the motion of resigning; he merely presented his trusted colleagues and military appointees as sacrificial offerings… Instead of gracefully accepting responsibility for erroneous policies, the guilty men sought alibis and scapegoats. In any developed democracy the Government would have been replaced, instead of being allowed to continue in office and sit in judgement on their subordinates… We must also learn that a democracy has no room for proven failures. This is not a matter of sentiment. Mr Chamberlain was removed after Hitler invaded France in May 1940 with Cromwell’s classic plea, ‘For God’s sake, go’. Mr Anthony Eden was forced out of office after the disastrous Suez adventure of 1956…

~ Brigadier JP Dalvi in his book “Himalayan Blunder”

Major Blunder – IV
Nehru: Foreign to Foreign Policy

People eulogise Nehru for his expertise in international affairs, and credit him as the founder of India’s foreign policy. Founder he was, but were the foundations solid? Or, were they rickety? Or, were there no foundations at all? Was it all airy ad-hocism, and one-man’s-pontifications? Crucially, was it a foreign policy that benefited India? Or, was it merely a device for Nehru for self-posturing and to project himself internationally?

How come all our major neighbours became our enemies? And, a friendly neighbour, Tibet, disappeared as an independent nation? How was it that our foreign policy turned India into a country no one took seriously? You evaluate a policy by its results, not by its verbosity and pompousness.

He [Nehru] insisted on keeping the portfolio of external affairs for himself. It was a disadvantage to him that he did so, because, as head of the whole government of India, he had to deal with a range of internal problems already too much for one mind. And it was a disadvantage to the Indian foreign office and the Indian diplomatic service. In effect he did damage to both, and at a formative and impressionable stage of their growth…
– Walter Crocker, Nehru: A Contemporary’s EstimateBR Ambedkar criticised Nehru’s foreign policy for trying to “solve the problems of other countries and not [exerting] to solve the problems of our own country!”

No to India’s UNSC Membership

Both the US and the USSR were willing to accommodate India as a Permanent Member of the UNSC (United Nations Security Council) in 1955, in lieu of Taiwan, or as a sixth member, after amending the UN charter. This Nehru refused! Nehru wanted the seat to be given to PRC (Peoples Republic of China), as Nehru did not want China to be marginalised! Even though not asked by China, India, of its own accord, had been vigorously advocating PRC for the Permanent Membership of the UNSC in lieu of Taiwan!

It was almost as if Nehru, for reasons one cannot fathom, totally ignored India’s own strategic interests!

Indian diplomats who have seen the files swear that at about the same time Jawaharlal also declined a US offer to take the permanent seat on the United Nations Security Council then held, with scant credibility, by Taiwan, urging that it be offered to Beijing instead…But it was one thing to fulminate against Great Power machinations, another to run a national foreign policy with little regard to the imperatives of power or the need of a country to bargain from a position of strength.

~ Shashi Tharoor in his book “Nehru: The Invention of India”

Advocating UN Membership &
UNSC seat for China

India lobbied with all nations for the UN membership and for the UNSC permanent seat, not for itself, but for China!

Even though China had invaded Tibet, Panikkar, the Indian Ambassador in Beijing, went so far as to pretend that there was lack of confirmation of the presence of Chinese troops in Tibet and that to protest the Chinese invasion of Tibet would be an interference to India’s efforts on behalf of China in the UN! That is, complaining against China on behalf of Tibet would show China in bad light—as an aggressor—when it was more important for India to ensure China’s entry into the UN, for which India had been trying, and ensure that this effort of India was not thwarted by taking up China’s Tibet aggression!

What kind of crazy Nehruvian foreign policy was this? Our own national security interest and the interest of Tibet were sought to be sacrificed to help China enter the UN!!

Nehru’s position effectively amounted to sacrificing India’s national security interests in Tibet so as not to weaken China’s case in the UN! By some weird logic Nehru felt that China’s entry into UN would ensure World Peace! But, what World Peace! Had India, a weakling, taken up the quixotic task of ensuring World Peace? And, did anti-colonial and anti-imperialist Nehru consider taking over of Tibet by China compatible with World Peace, and with anti-colonialism and anti-imperialism?


Non-aligned policy fetched no gains for India. If India had aligned itself with the US and the West, not only would India have been much better off economically, China would not have dared to attack India, nor would Pakistan have either attacked Kashmir or played mischief in J&K—the UK and the USA would not have favoured Pakistan over India on Kashmir, and the Kashmir issue would have been solved in India’s favour long ago.

All that non-alignment did was it helped project the image of Nehru on the world stage. It did precious little for India. In fact India greviously suffered from that stand.

Indus Water Treaty

In the India-Pakistan Indus Water Treaty of 1960 on sharing of waters from the six Indus-system rivers, Nehru gave away far, far more than what was adequate, miserably failing to envisage India’s future needs.

India-Pakistan Indus Water Treaty of 1960 has parallel with India-China Panchsheel agreement of 1954. Both had generous “give away” but no reciprocal “take” and both were thanks to Nehru!

Jawaharlal Nehru ignored the interests of Jammu and Kashmir and, to a lesser extent, Punjab when he signed the 1960 Indus Waters Treaty, under which India bigheartedly agreed to the exclusive reservation of the largest three of the six Indus-system rivers for downstream Pakistan. In effect, India signed an extraordinary treaty indefinitely setting aside 80.52% of the Indus-system waters for Pakistan—the most generous water-sharing pact thus far in modern world history. In fact, the volume of waters earmarked for Pakistan from India under the Indus treaty is more than 90 times greater than what the US is required to release for Mexico under the 1944 US-Mexico Water Treaty, which stipulates a minimum transboundary delivery of 1.85 billion cubic metres of the Colorado River waters yearly. Despite Clinton’s advocacy of a Teesta treaty, the fact is that the waters of the once-mighty Colorado River are siphoned by seven American states, leaving only a trickle for Mexico.

India and Nehru did not envisage—you may call it a lack of foresight on their part—that water resources would come under serious strain due to developmental and population pressures. Today, as the bulk of the Indus system’s waters continue to flow to an adversarial Pakistan waging a war by terror, India’s own Indus basin, according to the 2030 Water Resources Group, is reeling under a massive 52% deficit between water supply and demand.

Worse still, the Indus treaty has deprived Jammu and Kashmir of the only resource it has—water. The state’s three main rivers—the Chenab, the Jhelum (which boast the largest crossborder discharge of all the six Indus-system rivers) and the main Indus stream—have been reserved for Pakistan’s use, thereby promoting alienation and resentment in the Indian state.

This led the Jammu and Kashmir state legislature to pass a bipartisan resolution in 2002 calling for a review and annulment of the Indus treaty. To help allay popular resentment in the state over the major electricity shortages that is hampering its development, the central government subsequently embarked on hydropower projects like Baglihar and Kishenganga. But Pakistan—as if to perpetuate the alienation in the Indian state—took the Baglihar project to a World Bank-appointed international neutral expert and Kishenganga to the International Court of Arbitration, which last year stayed all further work on the project…

~ Brahma Chellaney in The Economic Times of 10 May 2012

Sri Lankan Tamil Problem

The Sri Lankan Tamil problem was allowed to fester and Nehru did little to get the matter resolved in the fifties, when it could have been—and it grew worse.

Walter Crocker, who was then the Australian ambassador to India, says in his book, Nehru: A Contemporary’s Estimate, that while India and Nehru spoke against the treatment of Africans in the European colonies, and justifiably so; in contrast, with regard to the ill treatment of Tamils in Ceylon, they did precious little. Writes  Crocker: “…and with little done to save Indians in Ceylon from treatment which was worse than the treatment meted out to Africans in European colonies in Africa.”

But, that was typical of Nehru. He railed against the discrimination and savagery in distant lands—say, against blacks in South Africa—but remained conspicuously silent about our own people next door: against the Hindus in East Pakistan, or against the Tamils in Sri Lanka. Because, the former—faulting savagery in distant lands like say South Africa—required only talking; while the latter required action too! Nehru believed in the convenient—talking. Not in the messy and the troublesome—action!

If India had succeeded in doing the needful in the fifties, much of the trouble that Sri Lanka and the Tamils and the Sinhalas faced subsequently could have been avoided. It is in such cases that the statesmanship of a person is tested.

Major Blunder – V
Dynastic Democracy

Dynastic Politics

Jawaharlal Nehru was unfairly promoted by his father, Motilal Nehru; and in the true dynastic and family traditions, Nehru promoted Indira, who in turn, even more shamelessly promoted her progeny. When Motilal Nehru retired as the Congress president in 1929, he made sure, with Gandhiji’s backing, that his son, Jawaharlal, ascended the gaddi, over the heads of people much more senior and capable than him.

Jawaharlal Nehru’s dynastic tendencies were apparent in the 1930s. After the 1937 elections when the ministry was being formed in UP, Rafi Ahmed Kidwai and Govind Ballabh Pant, who became the Chief Minister, proposed to Nehru inclusion of Mrs Vijaylakshmi Pandit [Nehru’s sister] in the ministry, not because they considered her fit for the job, but because, by doing so, they hoped to receive Nehru’s favour.

Liaquat Ali Khan and Nehru [who in 1946 was the head of the Interim Government] almost came to blows in the interim government’s cabinet, when Nehru named his sister Nan [Vijaylakshmi Pandit] as India’s first ambassador to Moscow. Liaquat was livid at such autocratic blatant nepotism, but his protests fell on deaf ears. Nehru yelled louder and threatened to resign immediately if Dickie [Mountbatten] supported Liaquat in the matter.
~ Stanley Wolpert in his book “Nehru”Another such instance I remember was when Dr. S. Radhakrishnan was president of India…I used to call on him whenever I was in Delhi…In his talks with me, as I believe with others too, he was very frank and open. One day, when I went to him he said, “Nijalingappa, today I put my foot down. Do you know why?’ He then continued, ‘Pandit Nehru comes to me and wants me to make his sister, Vijay Lakshmi Pandit, vice-president of India. I had to tell him, “You are the prime minister of India, your daughter is the president of Indian National Congress and you want your sister to be vice-president. What would people say? I cannot have it.” I put my foot down and sent him away.”
~ S. Nijalingappa in his book “My Life and Politics”

Dynacracy (Dynastic democracy) is bad not just because we resent some having unfair advantage, it is bad because it results in mediocrity, as it discounts merit. The quality of leadership emerging out of a dynastic process can never be really good. For proof, check for yourself the unutterable underachievements of the underwhelming leadership of the dynasts, at the state or at the Centre, and how it has become worse and worse down the generation: for example, from Nehru down to Rahul Gandhi.

Nehru never appointed a deputy prime minister (after Patel) or a senior minister who would take his place in his absence (when abroad or unwell or on holiday), which was desirable from all angles. It was his national responsibility to build up a capable successor, more so because India was a nascent democracy. But, he didn’t do it. Why? Because, while he could not have anointed Indira Gandhi in that position knowing the just and severe criticism it would attract, he didn’t wish anyone else to get precedence, while building up meanwhile Indira’s stature gradually.

Although Indira Gandhi had done little work for the Congress, she was made a member of the Congress Working Committee—entry directly from the top, rather than rising from the bottom. She was then made President of the Congress, to the astonishment of all, after an intense behind the scenes drama, managed through others by Nehru. Nehru had also started developing her as a public figure, which included giving her exposure to foreign dignitaries and guests. Kamraj Plan was also used to clear the way for Indira from the seniors.

Acharya Kripalani believed that the evils in the country emanated from the top and that Nehru was the pace-setter in abusing patronage and power.

Rajmohan Gandhi writes in Rajaji: A Life, “Suddenly, at this juncture, Indira Gandhi, Jawaharlal’s daughter, was named party president. Her talents were yet a secret, and she had no experience of party work. Several of Nehru’s colleagues were offended by the choice but said nothing. C.R. [Rajagopalachari] was outraged.”

Writes Kuldip Nayar in Beyond the Lines: “This was where I first heard that Congress President V.N. Dhebar was resigning and Indira Gandhi was taking over. Pant had supported Nehru at Vinobha’s ashram but not at the CWC when Indira Gandhi was nominated as the party president. He was careful not to oppose Nehru’s daughter directly but argued that her frail health would come in the way of the extensive travels the Congress president was required to undertake. Raising his voice, Nehru told Pant that ‘she was healthier than both of us’ and could put in longer hours of work. The subsequent discussions, as I noted, were to fix the date on which she would assume charge. This was the first time that dynastic politics came to the fore, and the Congress since then has been following the practice of invariably having a member of Nehru family at the helm of affairs…Left to Nehru, he would have liked Indira to succeed him as prime minister, but too many Congress leaders, with a long stint of sacrifice and struggle for the country’s freedom, were still on the scene at the time.”

One may say that Nehru did not make Indira Gandhi the PM. But, he was working towards it. However, before he could fulfil his mission he passed away. Though he had done the ground work—given the necessary visibility to her. Lal Bahadur Shastri had himself told that “in Panditji’s mind is his daughter”.

Writes Kuldip Nayar in Beyond the Lines: “I ventured to ask Shastri one day: ‘Who do you think Nehru has in mind as his successor?’ ‘Unke dil main to unki saputri hai [In his heart is his daughter],’ said Shastri…Nijalingappa said he was pretty sure that Nehru had his daughter in mind as his successor. In his diary, he wrote on 15 July 1969 that Nehru ‘was always grooming her for the prime-ministership obviously and patently’.”

Durga Das writes in his book “India from Curzon to Nehru & After” that in 1957 in his weekly column in Hindustan Times he wrote Nehru was building up his daughter for succession. He says he had checked with Maulana Azad before writing the column, and Azad had said he too had independently reached the same conclusion. Even Govind Ballabh Pant had the same opinion. Later, when Nehru remonstrated with Durga Das on the column, to mollify Nehru, Durga Das assured him that what he had written would bring good publicity to Indira and would stand her in good stead—at which Nehru felt happy and smiled

Gift: Democracy or Dynacracy?

Not seldom are those who tend to be critical of Nehru reminded it is thanks to Nehru India is a democracy, whose fruits all Indians are enjoying—including criticising him. Does the contention hold?

Elections were conducted in India during the British times too. Congress had not only won the 1937-elections and  formed ministries in many states; post elections, with power in their hands, they had already become so corrupt that Gandhi had desired disbanding of Congress after independence. The last pre-independence elections were held in 1946. Independent India inherited many democratic institutions, including election machinery—only it needed a boost to handle universal suffrage.

It was, in fact, the Constitution of India framed under Dr Ambedkar, and passed by the Constituent Assembly comprising scores of worthies and headed by Dr Rajendra Prasad, which had provided for universal adult franchise and democratic setup. So, how can the credit be given to Nehru?

Nehru’s own election as the president of Congress in 1946, that led to his becoming India’s first prime minister upon independence, was undemocratic. In 1946, Azad’s successor as the Congress President was to be chosen. The choice was critical then because whoever became the Congress President would also have become the head of the Interim Government and the first prime minister of independent India.

12 of the 15 (80%) PCCs nominated Sardar Patel. 3 PCCs of the 15 (20%) did not nominate anyone. Although Mahatma Gandhi had made his choice clear in favour of Nehru, and it was known to Congress persons and PCCs, yet not a single PCC nominated Nehru. As such, Nehru should have been totally out of the race. It was a non-contest. Sardar Patel was the only choice, and an undisputed choice, with not a single opposition. But, was Sardar Patel chosen?

Reportedly, Gandhi did tell Nehru that no one had nominated him, expecting him to go by the majority; but, Nehru let it be understood that he would not play second fiddle to anybody. A disappointed Gandhi apparently gave into Nehru’s obduracy and prevailed upon Sardar Patel to step down in favour of Nehru. This is how Nehru became the Congress President, and thereafter the head of the Interim Government, and later the first PM. If Nehru were genuinely a democrat, he should have refused the position and prevailed upon Gandhi to go by the wishes of the overwhelming majority.

Taken Shame Out of Dynacracy

The dynastic politics that Nehru started and thus sanctified has now vitiated and poisoned our whole democratic system. When people talk of Nehru as a great democrat, one can’t help but laugh. How can a person who laid the foundation of dynastic rule in democratic India be ever called a democrat? Democracy grafted on a nation with a strong feudal mindset is likely to degenerate into dynacracy, unless the leaders who matter consciously devote themselves to ensuring it does not happen, both by setting an example themselves (like Sardar Patel and Gandhi) and by putting in place appropriate systems. Rather than doing that, Nehru sanctified dynacracy through his actions, and Indira Gandhi unabashedly promoted it. Following in their footsteps, now most leaders promote their own dynasty in politics. It has now become all pervasive and has vitiated and poisoned our whole democratic system.

Now, it’s not just Nehru’s heirs—we now have heirs in nearly every state.

Not Limiting the Term of the PM

If Nehru was a true democrat, he should have taken a page out of the US Constitution, and limited the term of a prime minister to just two terms—like the President of the US. Not only that, on completion of two terms passing on the baton to one’s kin should also have been prohibited, to ensure dynasties did not take over politics. Dynasties have a vested interest in continuance at the expense of the nation. They also have a vested interest in covering up all the wrong doings of the dynasty.

Following Nehru’s footsteps, you find a strange spectacle of people—whether young or old, and whether in a political position or a bureaucratic position or a position in a sports body—not wanting to ever quit. Where extension is not possible, bureaucrats would seek some position or the other, post retirement. Officials of sports bodies—whether a politician or a retired-IPS or a businessman or any other—wish to continue for life!

Contrast the above with George Washington, co-founder of the USA. He was proclaimed the “Father of the Country” and was elected the first president of USA in 1789 with virtually no opposition. Washington retired in 1797, firmly declining to serve for more than eight years—two terms—despite requests to continue. His tremendous role in creating and running America notwithstanding, he didn’t harbour or propagate self-serving notions of indispensability. The 22nd amendment to the US constitution setting a maximum of only two terms for the president came only in 1947. Prior to that it was only an observed good practice for over a century.

Thomas Jefferson, the 3rd President and one of the founding fathers of the US, famous for his many achievements and for having originally drafted the Declaration of Independence of the US in 1776, was also requested,  pressurised and persuaded to consider continuing as President after completion of two terms in 1808, on account of his excellent performance on multiple counts—during his tenure the geographical area of the USA almost doubled, upon purchase of Louisiana from the French, which in turn ended the dispute about the navigation of the Mississippi. However, stressing the democratic and republican ideals, he refused, even though there was no legal bar then, and people would have loved him to continue.

Irresponsible Act:
Not Appointing a Successor, Deliberately

Nehru did not appoint a senior cabinet minister or a deputy prime minister to function in his absence when he went abroad. A responsible prime minister would have done so, and would have scotched all speculations on “After Nehru, who?” But he deliberately did not do so both to show to the world how indispensable and irreplaceable he was, and to make way for his daughter. Nehru thus sacrificed national interests for personal dynastic interests.

Nehru’s mentor, Gandhi, took care to appoint him as PM, and never promoted his own progeny. Nehru, despite having ruled too long, did not think it fit to pass the baton to anyone, even though it was not as if the country was doing great during his time, and his not being there would have adversely affected the nation. On the contrary, with him not there, things might have improved, provided, of course, the baton had not been passed to his daughter!

Contrast Nehru with Sardar Patel, who had told his son and grandson, when they visited him [Sardar] after he suffered a heart-attack in Delhi: “As long as I am in this chair, don’t visit Delhi, unless I am unwell and you have to see me…All sorts of people will contact you. Take care.” (Rajmohan Gandhi in Patel–A Life, Page# 473.)

Writes Perry Anderson, Professor of History and Sociology at UCLA: “For the rest of the union, the lasting affliction of Nehru’s rule has been the dynastic system he left it. He claimed to reject any dynastic principle, and his capacity for self-deception was perhaps great enough for him to believe he was doing so. But his refusal to indicate any colleague as a successor, and complaisance in the elevation of his daughter—with no qualifications other than her birth for the post—to the presidency of Congress, where Gandhi had once placed him for his own trampoline to power, speak for themselves.”

Wrote Walter Crocker, who was then the Australian ambassador to India, in his book, Nehru: A Contemporary’s Estimate: “It is no less strange that Nehru clung to office for so long. It would have been of help to the cause of parliamentary democracy in India if he had stood down…This is what Kemal Ataturk did…For one thing his long domination sapped the opposition; the opposition is an essential part of parliamentary democracy…”

Read part I here.